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Aerospace Daily January 11, 2002

Intelligence report sees no major changes in missile threat

By Rich Tuttle

The latest intelligence community report on missile threats to the U.S. finds no major changes from earlier projections, but says the threat remains and continues to grow. It also reflects the events of Sept. 11 by noting that terrorist attacks are more likely than missile attacks.

A 15-page, unclassified summary of the latest National Intelligence Estimate, released Jan. 9 by the CIA, says most intelligence agencies believe that before 2015, the U.S. "most likely will face ICBM threats from North Korea and Iran, and possibly from Iraq - barring any significant changes in their political orientations - in addition to the longstanding missile forces of Russia and China." One unidentified agency, it says, thinks the U.S. is not likely to face an ICBM threat from Iran before 2015. The NIE is the fourth since 1998. The last unclassified summary was released in September 1999.

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, told The DAILY that the events of Sept. 11 seem to have prompted the new report to focus on "what's probably going to happen rather than on what" is physically possible, as did the 1998 report of a commission headed by Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has since become the secretary of defense.

Rumsfeld's report said the threat to the U.S. of a ballistic missile attack was broader and more mature, and evolving more rapidly, than the Intelligence Community had ever estimated or reported. The report said the U.S. may have little or no warning of a missile attack (DAILY, July 16, 1998).

The new NIE summary, by contrast, says the U.S. "is more likely to be attacked with [chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear] materials from nonmissile delivery means - most likely from terrorists - than by missiles." It says this is so mostly "because nonmissile delivery means are less costly, easier to acquire, and more reliable and accurate. They also can be used without attribution."

The authors of "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015," Pike said, "were definitely going to the question of what they thought would probably happen, and when they thought it would probably happen."

But while nonmissile attacks are more likely than attacks by missiles, the summary says, "the missile threat will continue to grow, in part because missiles have become important regional weapons in the arsenals of numerous countries. Moreover, missiles provide a level of prestige, coercive diplomacy, and deterrence that nonmissile means do not."

'Not much has changed'

The document finds no major changes in ballistic missile projections from the September 1999 unclassified summary. And this, Pike said, is "one of the ... defining attributes of the whole missile proliferation debate over the last several years ... not much has changed." There are few new systems and, in some cases, not even many new tests, he said.

"The trend in ballistic missile development worldwide," the summary says, "is toward a maturation process among existing ballistic missile programs rather than toward a large increase in the number of countries possessing ballistic missiles."

But, it says, this means that countries with ballistic missile programs "continue to increase the range, reliability, and accuracy of the missile systems in their inventories - posing ever greater risks to U.S. forces, interests, and allies throughout the world."

Ten years ago, it says, "U.S. and allied forces abroad faced threats from SRBMs [short range ballistic missiles] - primarily the Scud and its variants. Today, countries have deployed or are on the verge of deploying MRBMs [medium range ballistic missiles], placing greater numbers of targets at risk."

Emerging missile states, the summary says, have been able to speed timelines for existing programs, acquire turn-key systems to gain capabilities they didn't have before - Pakistan, for instance, has acquired the Chinese M-11 SRBM - "and lay the groundwork for the expansion of domestic infrastructures to potentially accommodate even more capable and longer range future systems."

Such developments, it says, have been made possible by the proliferation "of ballistic missile-related technologies, materials, and expertise - especially by Russian, Chinese, and North Korean entities. ..."

Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.